Jewels of Croatia: Forests, Rivers, and Islands

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14630A, International


  • Hike and cycle through landscapes of forests, hills, meadows, mountain streams
  • Kayak rivers surrounded by lush forests teeming with birds
  • Experience three nights on a sailing cruiser; sail to exotic island destinations
  • Kayak, swim, and snorkel in the Adriatic, exploring cliffs, caves, and shorelines


  • All lodging; three-night Adriatic cruise; most meals, guides, on-trip transportation, and gratuities
  • All equipment, i.e. bicycles, helmets, rafts, kayaks, canoes, snorkel gear, and bicycle support van


DatesJun 1–14, 2014
StaffHurston Roberts

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Discover Croatia -- Europe’s undiscovered adventure travel destination! Croatia has pristine nature, history, art and tradition in a friendly atmosphere and pleasant climate. Adventure activities galore! Sea kayaking, canoeing, rafting, bicycling, sailing, hiking, snorkeling…and more. Visit incredible places -- coastal rivers flanked by green banks and karsts canyons, lush forests and mountains, inland river banks, full of flowers, birds, and curious little mammals waiting to be discovered.

Experience the unspoiled countryside while rafting down Croatian rivers. The diversity of landscapes makes Croatia a magnificent place for all hiking, walking, and biking enthusiasts. Conquer the most beautiful peaks and explore the fascinating mountain ranges, canyons, forests and countryside paths. Hauntingly rugged beauty awaits -- don't miss it.

Visit historic towns -- Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, developed in the 15th and 16th centuries as an Ottoman frontier town; the Croatian city of Trogir, a city with 2,300 years of tradition, which has been protected by UNESCO as a unique and well-preserved historic-Romanic-island town. Experience warm Croatian hospitality during an overnight stay in a small village hidden away in a valley by the river in Plitvice Lakes National Park.

Relax on our sailing cruiser as gentle winds take you among the captivating Croatian islands, with their peaceful and picturesque beaches, caves, cliffs and blue sea…an incredible setting for various activities: sailing, kayaking, diving, hiking, biking. Explore the Pelješac Peninsula, one of the most successful and famous wine making regions in Croatia. Sail to the Elafiti Islands archipelago -- some of Croatia's most beautiful green islands, covered by forests with lots of sunshine and sandy beaches.


Day 1: Zagreb – meeting and trip orientation

We meet at our hotel at the Zagreb’s main city square at 4:00 p.m. After our trip orientation and welcome dinner, you can spend the evening enjoying Zagreb's beautiful architecture, the old town, ancient monuments, and nightlife.

Day 2: Medvednica Nature Park hiking (9.3 miles, 2,500’ elevation gain)

After breakfast we head to Medvednica Nature Park to stretch our hiking legs. Mt. Medvednica (“The Bear Mountain“), which embraces Croatia’s capital city Zagreb, is a unique example of an almost fully preserved natural environment just out the back door of a large city. The mountain massif is covered by dense forests of beech, oak, and chestnut, and certainly deserves a title of Nature Park. We will make our way to the highest peak (Sljeme), famous for the Snow Queen Trophy slalom race, held as part of the Alpine skiing World Cup. After hiking, we drive to our next destination, located 70 km from Zagreb in Zvecaj village. The accommodation is a friendly, family-run hotel on the bank of the Mrežnica River. The restaurant overlooks an old mill close to a small waterfall and serves freshly caught fish, as well as home-grown vegetables.

Day 3: Risnjak National Park cycling (28 miles, 1,500’ descent with rolling hills)

Today we head for Risnjak National Park to cycle through a landscape of forests, hills, meadows, mountain streams and rivers. There is very little car traffic on these paved roads and the atmosphere is very peaceful and friendly. The pristine park includes the Risnjak and Snježnik ranges, as well as the source area of the Kupa River, which is beyond doubt one of the most beautiful places in Gorski Kotar. The Kupa River springs from a karstic well at the Park's lowest point, forming a turquoise pond some 200 meters long and 30 meters wide. The Kupa flows through a picturesque valley, also known as the mysterious valley of butterflies -- more than 500 species of butterflies inhabit the area! We'll bike toward Razloge, a village not far from the source. The route leads through little villages and forest paths, where the fresh, clean air will renew your senses. Once in Razloge, we'll descend to the river source and enjoy a break at this magical spot. After our cycling tour we will head back to our hotel on Mrežnica River.

Day 4: Mrežnica River trip (4 miles)

Our adventure today takes us to clear emerald water, unspoiled woods, and magical landscapes -- that is Mrežnica, one of Croatia's finest and clearest rivers, ideal for rafting, kayaking and canoeing. This typical ‘karst’ river -- with numerous travertine waterfalls, interspersed with calm water -- can reach 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer! Due to its biological diversity and variety of habitats, the Mrežnica area will soon be categorized as a Croatian Nature Park.

Today’s outing is a soft adventure suitable for beginners or those who wish to spend a relaxing day on the water with lots of swimming, jumping off waterfalls, and enjoying our natural surroundings. After the river trip we will head to Korana, a small village hidden away in a valley by the river in Plitvice Lakes National Park, for our home stay. The houses are small, traditional dwellings with simple, clean, and comfortable rooms in an idyllic setting. The peaceful atmosphere is an ideal base from which to explore the surrounding area.

Day 5: Plitvice Lakes National Park hiking (8.2 miles, 500’ elevation gain)

Today we remain in Plitvice Lakes National Park for some remarkable hiking. The series of 16 emerald green and opal blue travertine lakes, more than 90 waterfalls and numerous caves make Plitvice Lakes National Park a UNESCO World Heritage site. The lakes are surrounded by beech and pine forests, and are home to extensive wildlife. After a full day of exploring this Croatian national treasure we’ll return to our home stay in Korana Village. If time permits, we can go for an afternoon swim in the outflow of the lakes.

Day 6: North Velebit National Park hiking (9.3 miles, 700’ elevation gain)

After breakfast, we’ll drive to Croatia's newest national park -- North Velebit National Park. The area was designated a national park due to the richness of its karst phenomena, outstanding biodiversity, and natural beauty in a relatively small area. The Park is crisscrossed with numerous mountaineering trails. The most famous is the Premužic trail, named after its constructor, who built it in late 1933. The path runs through the most beautiful and interesting parts of the park. From the numerous peaks in the surrounding area you can have a magnificent view on the Adriatic Sea, its islands, and the continental side of the mountain chain. After hiking we retire in Novigrad, a small fishing village situated deep in the Novigrad Sea. Scattered along the coastline, the village of Novigrad has managed to preserve its authentic traditional architecture, untouched by modern tourism. A well-preserved 13th-century fortress stands above the village. From the restaurant terrace we should have ample opportunities for a memorable sunset over the bay and peaks of Mount Velebit.

Day 7: Zrmanja River trip and Zadar visit

Today we gear up for our expedition down the magnificent Wild-West-like canyons of the Zrmanja and Krupa rivers in Velebit Nature Park. Perfectly clear and green waters, rapids and waterfalls, hidden swimming pools and steep-sided canyons will steal your heart and make this excursion an unforgettable experience. No previous canoeing or kayaking experience is needed if you can swim. We use open canoes or sit-on-top kayaks. Rafting boats are used during high water season (usually before May and after September). If you are not too tired after the river trip, you can visit Zadar, a beautiful old town on the Adriatic coast. We return to Novigrad for the evening.

Day 8: Paklenica National Park hiking (9.7 miles, 1,800’ elevation gain) and Trogir visit

After breakfast we gather our hiking gear and head to Paklenica National Park -- a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and a favorite hiking and climbing destination in this part of Europe. Lying on the southeast slopes of the Velebit Mountain near the coast and cut by two awe-inspiring gorges, Mala Paklenica and Velika Paklenica's scenery is one of the most pristine in the whole Mediterranean. The lofty peaks making up this range offer huge views of both coastal and mountain scenery. There are several wonderful hikes through beech and black pine forests to choose from. After the hike we head to Trogir, a city with 2,300 years of tradition, which has been protected by UNESCO as a unique and well-preserved historic-Romanic-island town. With its concentration of palaces, churches, towers, and fortress on a small island, Trogir certainly deserves its nickname "the stone beauty." We overnight in Trogir.

Day 9: Canoeing on Trebižat River and Mostar Visit (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Today our adventure involves canoeing through unique karst areas of Herzegovina. We will take a relatively easy paddle down the narrow Trebižat River surrounded by lush forests and karst landscape that was formed by the river over thousands of years. After the river trip we will travel to historic Mostar, the cultural and economic center of Herzegovina. We retire to our accommodation by the Trebižat River in Herzegovina.

Day 10: Sailing and cycling (12-16 miles) Mljet Island National Park

After breakfast we drive to the Croatian coast, where we will board our accommodations for the next three nights. Once aboard our sailing cruiser, we set sail for Mljet Island National Park. Two saltwater lakes surrounded by a lush, green forest, the larger one with a small island in the middle, make this island a spectacular location for hiking, cycling, and swimming. We will cycle from our sailing cruiser to the lakes, where we will take a boat to a small island with a 15th-century Benedictine monastery. Overnight on the sailing cruiser.

Day 11: Sailing, kayaking and snorkeling Peljesac Peninsula

Today we set sail for the Pelješac Peninsula and explore one of the most successful and famous wine-making regions in Croatia. It is a true oasis of peace with its vast vineyards, salt and oyster farms, quiet towns, narrow streets, and hidden beaches. We will spend the day sea kayaking to White Beach, a very special bay that can be reached only by boat or kayak. Its caves and reefs make it an ideal place for swimming and snorkeling. Overnight on the sailing cruiser.

Day 12: Sailing, cycling and hiking Elafiti Islands

We set sail for the Elafiti Islands archipelago -- Lopud, Kolocep and Šipan -- some of Croatia's most beautiful green islands, covered by forests with lots of sunshine and sandy beaches, free of traffic, and under an hour’s sailing time from Dubrovnik. If we’re lucky, we’ll be escorted by friendly dolphins that are often seen in the area. Hiking, kayaking and cycling are among today’s possible activities. Overnight on the sailing cruiser.

Day 13: Sailing - Dubrovnik visit

Today we set sail toward the coast and visit Dubrovnik -- one of the world’s most beautiful and historic old towns. On our guided tour of Dubrovnik, we’ll walk around the city walls, visit museums and churches, or find a small cafe and relax. Optionally, you may visit the nearby Lokrum Island during the town's busy hours. Discover the botanical garden, Benedictine monastery, and beaches; tame bays on the northern and dramatic cliffs on the southern side. Following a full, eventful day, we travel to Zaton Village, where we have our last night's accommodations on Zaton Bay (resort apartments). If time permits, you can take one last swim before our farewell dinner.

Day 14: End of trip and airport transfer

Today we say farewell to all our fellow adventurous travelers as we conclude our “lifetime” Croatian adventure. We transfer to the Dubrovnik airport for our flights home.

Please keep in mind that this itinerary may be altered due to inclement weather, trails closed for repair, or for any reason that may affect the safety of the group.



Getting There

The trip begins in Zagreb and ends in Dubrovnik. Many airlines service both airports. The leader will send detailed instructions to trip participants for arrival and departure.

Accommodations and Food

From our welcome dinner in Zagreb to our final breakfast in Dubrovnik, all breakfasts, two lunches, and all dinners are included. On days when lunch is not included, you may purchase materials for picnic lunches at local grocery stores. While on the sailing cruiser, dinners will be at local village restaurants ashore. Excluded are alcoholic beverages, extra snacks, and any meals not taken with the group. It is advisable to bring one or two good water bottles that can be filled at the hotels. The drinking water in Croatia is excellent. If you request water in a restaurant you will likely be served bottled water, which is often very expensive, and those many plastic bottles are an environmental issue in themselves. Vegetarians can be accommodated on this trip. Please contact the leader if you have other dietary restrictions.

Our accommodations will be at comfortable hotels, village stays, lodges, and onboard a sailing cruiser. We spend one night in a small, riverside hotel in Ljubuški, Bosnia and Herzegovina. We will sleep in two-person rooms with hot showers and friendly Croatian service. Participants travelling alone will be assigned a same-sex roommate. Accommodations on the sailing cruiser are cozy, but will have adequate berthing (no more than two to a cabin) and shower and toilet facilities. Our experienced capitan and crew will oversee all sailing cruiser operations and prepare our breakfasts onboard. Our sailing cruiser will berth in a marina each evening. Depending on the size and make-up of our group, a second sailing cruiser may be used for our sailing adventure.

With the exception of your transfer to the hotel in Zagreb, all travel that we take during the trip as part of our itinerary is included in the trip cost. Transfer to the airport in Dubrovnik will be provided on the last day of the trip (morning transfer only). If you elect not to use the airport transfer provided on the last day, you should plan on obtaining your own transportation to the airport. Please be aware that we will make every attempt to stay within this schedule. However, if weather, equipment, or any other condition causes a change in itinerary, please be flexible and respect the decision of the leader. The safety of the group is our number one concern.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is for physically active people who are experienced hikers and cyclists. Hybrid bikes will be used as we’ll travel over dirt/gravel tracks as well as paved roads. Although a van will be available to pick up cyclists who become tired, those who are physically prepared for the trip will be rewarded with a great outdoor experience. The kayaking and rafting events do not require previous experience; however, it would be helpful for those with no kayaking experience to get a basic kayaking course before the trip. Hikes will be easy to moderately strenuous. The trails are generally in good condition, but some will have a few steep grades up or down, with mixtures of soil, rocks, and roots making them uneven. The pace will generally be leisurely to moderate. Anyone in good physical condition who enjoys hiking in the mountains can make the trip, but pre-conditioning on similar terrain can help you determine if you are comfortable with the length and type of hiking. Alternatives to our planned activities are available on some days.

Equipment and Clothing

Lightweight hiking boots with good ankle support are the preferred footwear for hiking, since some trails are rocky, "rooty," and occasionally steep. Hiking sticks may be very useful for the rougher patches.

Croatia has two climates. The interior (Zagreb) temperatures in June will range from the high 50s at night to the high 70s in the day. The coast has a typically Mediterranean climate. June has glorious, sunny weather with warm temperatures, and the sea will also be warm enough for swimming (water temperature in the low 70s). Expect temperatures along the coast from the mid 60s at night to the high 80s in the day. Good quality rain gear can serve as an excellent outer layer when it rains or is windy. The average rainfall for the month of June is 4” in interior areas and 2” along the coast.

Bicycles, bike helmets, kayaks, canoes, rafts, paddles, life jackets and snorkel gear are provided. We will carry day packs with extra clothes, water, and lunch, along with cameras and minor first aid. Water shoes are recommended for kayaking and all water activities. You should provide your own personal first-aid kit for minor needs, which includes such items as Band-Aids, moleskin, insect repellent, sunscreen, etc. The leader will also carry a more complete first-aid kit for emergency use.

Upon approval for the trip, the leader will provide a more comprehensive equipment list to all participants.


The Internet has many great sites describing Croatia, its history, and culture, including:

Many guides for exploring Croatia can also provide useful information on history, wildlife, geology, and the Croatian people:

  • Mutic, Anja and Iain Stewart, Lonely Planet Croatia (Country Travel Guide). 2011.
  • Kurapovna, Marcia, Shadows on the Mountain: The Allies, the Resistance, and the Rivalries that Doomed WWII Yugoslavia. 2009.
  • Tanner, Marcus, Croatia: A Nation Forged in War; Third Edition. 2010.
  • Evenden, Karen, A Taste of Croatia. 2007.
  • Silber, Laura and Allan Little, Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation.
  • Curtis, Benjamin, A Traveller's History of Croatia. 2010.


Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers, aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward environmentally understanding parallel concerns at home and abroad.

The environmental quality of the Croatia is better than that of the European Union (EU) nations, basically because it has a low level of industrial development. The Ministry of Environmental Protection, Physical Planning and Construction (MEPPPC) and the Croatian Environment Agency (AZO) are the leading environmental agencies of the country. Industrial pollution is the major cause of environmental problems in Croatia, as it is in the rest of Eastern Europe.

Croatia’s Sava River Valley contains three bird sanctuaries, two of which are part of the Lonjsko Polje Nature Park. The floodplain of the Sava River is extensive, resulting in wetlands that provide a habitat for numerous plant and animal species. These wetlands are at risk as a result of encroaching agriculture, drainage and land reclamation, and water pollution.

Croatia protects 6.7 percent of its total land area in parks and other reserves -- a higher percentage than any of the country’s eastern European neighbors, yet much lower than many western European countries. Forests make up 32.6 percent of the country’s land area. Given 95% of natural composition of the forest stand, Croatia’s forests show a very high level of preservation of natural structure, which is especially valuable and rare compared to forests of other European states. Natural rejuvenation of forests is therefore one of the most important indicators of their naturalness. Industrial air pollution from the cities causes acid rain that is damaging to the forests.

Croatia is party to treaties concerning air pollution, biodiversity, climate change, hazardous wastes, marine dumping, and wetlands. As we hike/cycle/kayak through these magnificent landscapes, we will view Croatia’s balancing act between "progress" and "conservation" at close quarters.



Hurston Roberts loves the outdoors and gets great enjoyment out of sharing mountain splendor, the wilderness and outdoor experiences with others. A Sierra Club trip leader for over 11 years, Hurston also leads Sierra Club international trips in England, Scotland, New Zealand, Vietnam and Nepal. He leads national trips in the Sierra and Hawaii. After living in Hawaii for 24 years and Northern Virginia for 7 years, Hurston recently relocated to Reno, Nevada to be closer to the Sierra.

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